Vatican Secret Archives: 6 of the most intriguing documents in church history

One hundred secret documents held in the labyrinthine vaults and tunnels of the Vatican’s Secret Archives are on public display in Rome for the first time. 

Normally kept under lock and key and not available to the public, the documents will be shown in the Capitoline Museums until September to celebrate the 400th anniversary of the establishment of the Secret Archives. The archives have always aroused curiosity, no more so than when they were featured in the Dan Brown novel “Angels and Demons,” in which Harvard “symbologist” Robert Langdon races against time to stop a secret religious order from blowing up the Vatican. The priceless documents span more than a millennium, from the 8th century to modern times, and feature a cast of historical characters ranging from Martin Luther and Henry VIII to Galileo and the warrior monks of the Knights Templar

Here are six highlights:

Daniele Fregonese-Vatican Secret Archives/Reuters
Proceedings of the trial of Galileo Galilei are seen in this undated photo.

A letter from Mary Queen of Scots

Mary, a rallying force for the Catholic cause in England, wrote a letter in French to Pope Sixtus V from Fotheringay Castle in Northamptonshire, England, in November 1586. In the letter, she professes her allegiance to the “universal” Catholic Church of Rome and rails against the falsehoods perpetrated by her enemies in England.

The letter was written a few weeks before her execution for alleged involvement in plots to assassinate Queen Elizabeth I. She claimed that the tribunal that condemned her to death was illegitimate and heretical.

1 of 6

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.